In communications planning, the establishment of objectives is often the least defined aspect. Public relations and communication professionals frequently establish vague objectives, making it challenging to assess their effectiveness and demonstrate the value of a PR campaign or communication program. As outlined in the Barcelona Principles, 'goal setting and measurement are fundamental aspects of any public relations campaign.' This brief article explores the distinction between goals and objectives, the concept of SMART objectives, the hierarchy of objectives, and the reasons for setting objectives.


Difference Between Goals and Objectives


The terms 'goals' and 'objectives' are frequently used interchangeably, but they carry distinct meanings. According to Smith (2005: 69-72), 'A goal is a statement rooted in the organization’s mission or vision. Using everyday language, a goal acknowledges the issue and sketches out how the organization hopes to see it settled. A goal is stated in general terms and lacks measure; these will come later in the objectives.' Conversely, an objective is a clear and measurable statement derived from the organization’s goals, representing the culmination of a public relations campaign or communication program. Moreover, a single goal may serve as the basis for multiple objectives.


SMART Objectives


Setting objectives often involves the use of SMART objectives—those that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed. While these criteria are considered an ideal to strive for, it is often challenging to establish public relations or communication objectives that can be precisely controlled. Smith (1998: 43) provides a few examples of setting SMART objectives:



  • Announce a sale and achieve 70% awareness one day before the sale starts.
  • Increase awareness from 30% to 50% within 8 weeks of the campaign launch among women aged 25-41.

Hierarchy of Objectives


In the context of public relations objective setting, it's crucial to consider the concept of a hierarchy of objectives. Stacks and Bowen (2011) outline that any public relations campaign typically involves three objectives: informational, motivational, and behavioral. Initially, the target audience or stakeholders should receive and comprehend the provided information. Subsequently, this information should motivate them to undertake an intended action. Finally, the desired outcome is a change in their behavior.


Lastly, public relations and communication professionals should consistently bear in mind the relationship between outcome or impact evaluation and the defined objectives. Evaluation must be taken into account at the inception of every PR campaign or communication program, as it directly ties back to the established objectives. Therefore, by having clearly identified objectives at the outset of a campaign or program, one can readily measure and evaluate its effectiveness and impact.